There is a saying that ‘the night is always darkest before the dawn’. Sometimes in life, we reach a nadir, a point at which things aren’t going the way we planned. Such down points, when we feel engulfed with feeling of anger or sadness, are often moments for reflection that the Almighty provides us so we can effectively rebound.
Around December 2013, I had experienced my own nadir, after going through a particularly difficult life experience (divorce). After having moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from the US nearly three years earlier, and with my few friends busy with their own affairs and family distant in a different country, I felt a sense of loneliness I had never before.
Perhaps spurred by this isolation and the amount of spare time I had, I decided to try my hand at the Masjid Tour Guide (MTG) program at the National Mosque of Malaysia. I took a two-day course offered at the masjid to train participants interested to become a Da’ee, someone who shares about Islam. Following this, I become a trainee, before eventually being an official tour guide. My experience at the masjid proved to be more than just a usual case of weekend volunteering; I gained more out of this than I could ever imagine.
About of the Masjid and Mosque Tour Guide Programe
The National Mosque was first built in 1965 and is located on Jalan Perdana, opposite the Old Malayan Railway Station. Following Malaysia’s independence in 1957, the Federal Governing Council approved the idea for building such a national mosque as a rallying symbol of independence for the new country. Situated in a plot of 13 acres, the National Mosque is surrounded by greenery, reflecting pools and fountains. The main prayer hall inside has a capacity of over 3,000 people, while the overall mosque has a capacity of over 15,000.
According to the Islamic Outreach Centre in the National Mosque, of the more than 5,000 mosques in Malaysia, over 30 run some form of tour guide programme for non-Muslims and foreigners. The National Mosque is perhaps leading in this regard, receiving over 200,000 visitors annually from across the world, sometimes exceeding 1,000 a day. Visitors are welcome from any race or religion, even if they have never set foot in a mosque before.
I can get annoyed when someone gets too preachy or pushy with their views, so why would I want to subject anyone else to that?
We are taught as MTGs to consider those who enter the masjid as our guests who deserve our hospitality. While most come just to take a quick photo and then leave to see some other tourist spot, many are intrigued by being inside and have many questions about Islam and what Muslims do.
Different da’ees have their own styles in approaching their tasks. My approach is to measure each visitor by his or her level of curiosity before proceeding. Those visitors who are inquisitive, I allow myself to delve more into the basic details of the religion while avoiding any unnecessary debate or argumentation. I see my role more of giving them the information they ask for, and leaving them to make their decisions. I can get annoyed when someone gets too preachy or pushy with their views, so why would I want to subject anyone else to that?
When we presented her a Chinese translation of the Quran, her face lit up like a child seeing candy for the first time.
While the majority of my interactions with visitors are light-hearted affairs, some can be truly memorable. For example, I recall meeting a lady from China who was part of a tour group. Upon asking if she had been to a masjid before, she replied no but she was a Muslim in her heart. She apparently had been convinced about the truth of Islam but shied away from voicing it out to others in China. When we presented her a Chinese translation of the Quran, her face lit up like a child seeing candy for the first time. She left with that copy and a beaming smile on her face.
While the satisfaction of being a MTG lies more in fulfilling a greater sense of purpose and community value, it is moments like this that make the experience all the more worthwhile. Being a MTG can be challenging at times, but it provides myself a chance to leave all the hustle and bustle of life to experience the joys of pure human interaction.
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